Rana el Kaliouby: Focusing on Diversity Can Make Your Tech Product Better

May 14 - On The Dot

FIRST THOUGHT: Meet Me Halfway

While at a social event full of business leaders, a man introduced himself and asked what I did. As I explained, I saw his eyes dart behind me and then glaze over in self-thought. He dismissed me from the get-go based on my job title because he assumed our paths would never cross and I could be of no help to him. Maybe that was true in this instance, but I’ve noticed that oftentimes, when you sit down with someone for a focused conversation, the two of you can find at least a couple ways to connect, either professionally or personally. Today, don’t rebuff the value of a solid 15-minute conversation with someone new.


One reason to spend more time with someone you’ve just met beyond a handshake and business-card exchange is so you can actually remember the person. Facial recognition isn’t just a skill to put on display at networking parties anymore. Technology is getting in the game too. But some of our real-world biases may be seeping into the world of artificial intelligence. For instance, according to researchers at the MIT Media Lab, some commercial software has the ability to identify the gender of a person in a photograph—if it’s a white male, that is—with the system being accurate 99 percent of the time. But when given a photo of a dark-skinned woman, the technology breaks down, making as many as 35 percent more errors in its identification.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Rana el Kaliouby, Co-founder and CEO of Affectiva

Today’s Woman to Watch is an innovative scientist who’s ensuring the burgeoning world of artificial intelligence works to improve how humans interact with technology—and each other. Her name is Rana el Kaliouby, and she’s definitely taking inspiration to the next level.

In 2009, Rana co-founded a company called Affectiva, which began as an MIT Media Lab startup and has since raised more than $26 million in funding. Affectiva pushes the boundaries of what artificial-intelligence software can do, employing what’s called emotion AI to recognize complex human emotions from a person’s face and voice—all with the goal of providing richer insight into the human expression of emotion.

One particular Affectiva success story involves Giphy, the go-to online site for accessing more than a billion GIFs, or animated and static images. Using Affectiva’s technology, Giphy was able to catalogue and tag GIFs with emotions so they’re more easily searchable. For instance, you simply type in a word like “empowered,” and Giphy generates GIFs that depict that emotion. Pretty smart, huh?

And that’s Rana in a word. There’s certainly a lot to praise about this smarty, like how she was named the Middle East and North Africa Ambassador for the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization, was the recipient of Smithsonian Magazine’s Ingenuity Award for Technology or that she holds a handful of impressive degrees from the University of Cambridge, MIT and the Harvard Kennedy School.

Rana’s intelligence and vision have led to Affectiva’s success, with its technology now being used by one-third of Fortune Global 100 brands. Part of that success comes from Rana’s insistence that there was a focus on diversity from the get-go, with her testing the tech on thousands of people from six continents. Now Affectiva informs brands and companies we interact with daily, enhancing the way global businesses use technology. As an Egyptian-American woman, Rana knew her software had to be useful to every nationality, every race, every gender, everyone.


With Rana el Kaliouby and her brilliant technology in mind, today’s quote comes from Megan Smith, the third chief technology officer of the United States, who said:

“If you’re passionate about [something] and you bring your talent, you’ll be unstoppable.”

This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.

To learn more about our conversation, check us out at OnTheDotWoman.com and talk to us @OnTheDotWoman on Twitter and Instagram. We’d love to hear your voice.

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